There are plenty of good reasons to take an antibiotic, and despite what some people assume naturopathic doctor's must think of them, I am not anti-antibiotics! In fact, I have just finished a 7-day course of antibiotics myself (to prevent infection following a fairly major dental surgery).
But - these meds, while important and life-saving in some situations, are generally widely overused, and have consequences associated with them. Since I've had a recent rendezvous with these drugs, I thought I would share what you need to know if you find yourself in the same boat as me, and want to prevent some of the potential consequences associated with antibiotic medication!
Antibiotics unfortunately cannot enter our body and find the infection they are intended to treat and just kill off those bad bacteria. They kill a lot of innocent bystanders too! I have lots of patients in my practice who account for their health issues starting after finishing a round of antibiotics - and this may very likely be due to the impact that antibiotics have on our microbiome.
Yep, I know. That sounds weird and freaky. Let me explain.
What if I told you that your body contains more cells of microbes than there are cells of YOU?
Well prepared to be shocked and awed, because it's true! If you're like me, you were raised believing that bacteria are bad - they cause illness and sickness and they should be killed. Now don't get me wrong, some bacteria are really bad and can make you incredibly sick. But, there is a huge population of bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites and yeast that live on and within our body that also make us incredibly healthy - this is called our microbiome.
Our microbiome serves a lot of functions - the bugs in our gut help us to digest our food, they play a very important role in the modulation of our immune system, they release happy hormones like serotonin, and they help us to manage our weight. In fact, the microbiome likely plays a role in every system in our body, from our skin to our brain.
Think of the microbiome like a high school full of teenagers. If you are in a nice neighbourhood, the kids that go to the local high school likely go to class, are polite to the teachers, do their homework and maybe even volunteer after school. There might a few "bad kids" but they get peer pressured to be good; the school is a nice place. Every parent wants to send their kids there.
But, if you are in a bad neighbourhood, oh boy. The kids at this school skip class, they vandalize, steal from each other and are super rude. There are a few nice kids, sure, but they can't stop their classmates from behaving badly, they are outnumbered. You should probably move to a different school district.
Lots of things can damage a nice microbiome environment, including stress, a high sugar diet and some medications. The worst offender though, is an antibiotic. When they enter your body, they cannot tell precisely which ones are the bad bacteria making you sick, and which ones are the good guys defending your health, so (generally speaking) they kill whatever they come across.
I know what you're thinking... I thought it too. So much so that I considered not taking the meds at all! Not worth the hassle, I thought. I've had SO many patients in my practice who can definitely link the start of their IBS, anxiety, eczema, or other health concern to a time when they had to take antibiotics.
But I knew better - I knew that this medication was critically important for my health given the circumstances (jaw bone and potentially brain infection... no thank you), and I knew I could do my best to prevent any unintended consequences.
So, if you've been prescribed an antibiotic, here is what you need to consider:
A note on timing - you want to take your antibiotic and your probiotic away from one another (2-3 hours approximately). They don't interact negatively, but if you take them too close together, the antibiotic will kill off your probiotics too. You should also take your probiotic with food. So, for example, if you take your antibiotic morning and night, take your probiotic at lunch. Continue to take your probiotic and focus on eating well for at least a month following the antibiotics.
If you feel like your gut health or general health has been impacted by taking an antibiotic, consult with your Naturopathic Doctor (I am accepting new patients if you don't have one yet!) to get your microbiome back on track! Your entire health depends on it!